Transplant and Travel

January 31, 2024

Transplant and Travel

By Jeanmarie Ferguson

One of my favorite things to do is travel. I love experiencing new places and people. I made the mistake of being afraid to travel initially after my transplant in 2006. However, I realized that with a little planning and paying attention to important details, I could and should travel. Traveling sparks a light in me and I feel more alive than ever. After being given a beautiful gift of life, I should get out into the world and explore.

In the last 10 years, I have traveled to different states and cities throughout the United States. There are so many beautiful places here. But now I am ready to embark on my very first international trip. This is by far the most significant goal and dream I have ever had. I have been in love with Italy and Italian art since I was 15 years old. I am so excited and nervous. I have been waiting for years for the right time. I decided there was no better time than now. 

I started planning this trip years ago and then the pandemic happened. I postponed my dream once again. I allowed self-doubt to take over my thoughts, feeling that it wasn’t realistic to combine international travel and a transplant. The self-doubt was strong. 

While scrolling through Instagram, I found an account called TravelsWithTransplant.  I was so inspired by the tips Vanessa was providing for traveling with a transplant. It gave me a confidence boost to see all the magnificent places she has traveled with a transplant. That is when I decided I was going to make my dream a reality. 

I reached out to Vanessa and discussed the trip I was about to take. And I shared my plans to write about it on Transplantlyfe. I had so many questions for her to help ease my thoughts about traveling.

Vanessa is such an amazing transplant recipient with an inspiring story herself. 

Vanessa received her kidney transplant over 5 years ago, at age 33, as a result of progressive autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. As a career pilot, she has traveled extensively both pre and post-transplant. She credits a great deal of her success to budgeting extra time for her health, keeping plans flexible, and maintaining a positive attitude. She loves advocating travel solutions to the transplant and chronic illness communities who inspire her daily through their own life and travel journeys.

I asked her to share some of her top tips while traveling. She was so gracious in her response. I learned so many great things to make my trip go so much smoother and remove some of the anxiety about traveling so far from home. 

My biggest concern with traveling internationally is knowing when to take my medications once I am in a completely different country. Vanessa recommended using the Medisafe app. I have been using it for a few months now. I like the daily reminders to take my meds. Without our anti-rejection medications, we can’t be successful with our transplant. Of course, talk to your transplant team for advice on how to handle the medications if traveling to a different country or time zone. My team recommends if I take my anti-rejection medications at 9 am and 9 pm Pacific Time, I will take them at 6 pm and 6 am in say Italy. They are 9 hours ahead of us. So the time I would take the anti-rejection pills will be 9 am and 9 pm Pacific time no matter where I am in the world. 

Since our medications are the most important item that we take on our travels, they must always go in your carry-on bag. I also take an extra week of medications with me in case of any delays with getting back home.  

Another important tip is that we must drink plenty of water. I noticed through some of my travels, that travelers don’t realize you can take an empty water bottle with you through TSA. Almost every airport I have been in has an area where you can fill your water bottle for free. I usually do it right away and one more time before I board the plane. 

When I create my itinerary, I always allow for rest days. Sometimes after being on an airplane for a long period of time, with a time zone change, my body gets a bit upset. That is why I schedule those days to just rest at the hotel or wherever my accommodations are. It gives me a chance to enjoy the days that I have something awesome planned. And if I happen to feel just fine on a scheduled rest day, I will get out and explore. I think it’s important that we are gentle with our bodies. They’ve been through a lot. 

I hope these tips have been helpful. And I hope they give you the courage to get out and live your life as you want. With a transplant, we have been given a beautiful gift of freedom from constant wires and hospitals. It is always best to partner with your care teams before going on a trip. The care team is always there to answer any questions that you may have about any travel plans. 

Vanessa continues to inspire me with her wonderful travels! I asked her what her favorite places are that she’s traveled. She said: Cinque Terre, Italy, New Zealand (South Island), and Kyoto Japan. How cool are all those destinations? It opens up so many possibilities for us as transplant patients to get out into the world, taking safe precautions, of course. 

I have shared many tips throughout this article. If you have any questions for Vanessa as you decide if you might take a vacation soon, feel free to reach out to Vanessa with any questions. Make sure to give her a follow on Instagram @TravelsWithTransplant for more travel tips.

“Jobs fill your pocket, but adventures fill your soul.” – Jamie Lyn Beatty